Is Adreian Payne a National POY Candidate?Posted by Brendan Brody on December 28th, 2013
Adreian Payne isn’t really a mystery to anyone. When you stay in college all four years and play for a team that pretty much lives in the Top 25 during that time, people generally know who you are. Everyone who follows both the B1G and the national college basketball scene knows how Payne went from someone who essentially rode the bench as a freshman to someone who morphed into one of the best pick-and-pop big men in the game around the middle of his junior season. He’s now projected to be a first-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and he was named a 1st-team preseason All-American by the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook heading into the season. He was also named to all of the requisite watch lists, and he even made our preseason First Team B1G list here at RTC. So the question to be posed coming off of a 33-point offensive clinic last Saturday against Texas is this: Is Adreian Payne a legitimate National Player of the Year candidate?
If you look at conventional statistics, you’ll see that he’s averaging 18.1 PPG, 8.0 RPG, and is shooting 53.0 percent from the field, 82.7 percent from the line, and 45.7 percent from three. If advanced stats are more your cup of tea, then you’ll find that Payne has an offensive rating of 122.5 (second in the B1G), an eFG of 59.1 percent, and a true shooting rate of 63.5 percent. He rebounds 22.6 percent of all misses on the defensive end, and is blocking 3.7 percent of all his opponents’ shots. In summation, what you have is a 6’10″ player who shoots the ball like a guard yet still hits the boards and blocks shots at an elite big man level. At the beginning of this season, teammate Keith Appling got more of the headlines with his scorching hot start. Gary Harris, a projected top-10 pick, also got great publicity coming into the year. Yet Payne has been the most consistent of the three. He’s only failed to hit double figures in two games, and he has four double-doubles, including games of 25 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks, twice this season. If Michigan State, currently at #5 in both national polls, can move back into the top three and Payne continues to produce at a high level, his case will only get stronger.
Two problems that may come into play with this argument are that there are two other outstanding players on his own team, and that the college basketball media is slightly infatuated with all of the standout freshmen that have come onto the scene this season. You see it in other sports all of the time. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will never win an MVP award with Lebron James on the same roster, no matter how well they play in a given season. Yadier Molina didn’t emerge as a serious MVP candidate for the St. Louis Cardinalsl until Albert Pujols left town. If Harris comes back strong from injury and levels out some of his inconsistency, he will garner more publicity and overshadow Payne’s contributions. Furthermore, with Appling and Harris around, Payne isn’t going to contribute monster scoring numbers anytime soon –his scoring average is likely to stay right around where it is now.
In addition to the stars on his own team getting in his way, this year’s freshman class is phenomenal. You have to figure that if Duke, Arizona, Kentucky and Kansas are in the top 10 through the rest of the season, then their standout freshman are going to be very much in the mix for the NPOY award. As of now, Parker probably has the best chance to combine the numbers and team success required to earn the honor. Four-year players also don’t carry the same cachet that a newcomer possesses, so Payne is at a disadvantage if Parker, Julius Randle and the others continue to produce at high levels.
Through the first third of the season, Payne is one of a group- of about 10 players who should be in contention for the award. His chances will improve if he starts contributing performances like the one against Texas on a regular basis and Michigan State remains in the top echelon of the polls. But given the hype surrounding many of the other players around the country this season, it’s unlikely that Payne will be able to break through and join the names at the very top of the list. This doesn’t mean, however, that he’s undeserving — his outstanding play this season should not be overlooked regardless of where he finishes in the NPOY voting.